Pablo Picasso is perhaps the most famous of the Spanish painters and certainly the one that most people of this modern era remember. He was born in 1881 in the city of Malaga in southern Spain. His father was an art teacher and young Pablo began drawing in earnest from the tender age of eight. He wanted to be able to be amongst the greats of Spanish art such as Velázquez or El Greco but there was a problem – he just could not get the composition of his paintings right.
Picasso As a Young Man
At the age of 17, he moved to Barcelona and became part of the avant-garde group there developing his style under the influence of the likes of Antoni Gaudi. He went through a series of different styles, known as the ‘Rose Period’ and then the ‘Blue period, the latter caused by the suicide of his close friend Carlos Casamegas. Although the ‘Blue Period’ did have to do with his state of mind, Picasso was also experimenting with the use of low light in the style of El Greco. From 1906, his style changed again, this time with an influence from Africa before developing into the style for which he is most famous, that of Cubism, which marked the start of abstract art.
The Bombing of Guernica
One of his most famous paintings is that of the bombing by German and Italian planes, under orders from General Franco, of the town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. The bombing took place on April 26 1937. Figures vary as to the number of people killed and injured. In an article written in the Times Newspaper on April 27 1937, the un-named correspondent describes the horror of the scene, “When I entered Guernica after midnight houses were crashing on either side, and it was utterly impossible even for firemen to enter the centre of the town. The hospitals of Josefinas and Convento de Santa Clara were glowing heaps of embers, all the churches except that of Santa Maria were destroyed and the few houses that still stood were doomed.”
Propaganda from both sides tried to either dismiss the death toll as around 250 or count the dead in the thousands, depending on which side of the war they supported. What is certain though is that a great many people lost their lives in terrible circumstances.
Creation of a Masterpiece
Picasso was horrified by the unprovoked bombing of the unarmed town, which contained mainly women, children and the elderly as the men were away fighting. He began to make preliminary drawings for his masterwork and around fifty studies. The final piece is an incredible 3.5 m by 7.6 m in size and took just 24 days to finish. There are many aspects to the painting, and very many interpretations of the different parts of the piece, but it can be seen as an outpouring of Picasso’s pain and grief at what was happening to his beloved country.
“Motifs of a woman screaming in agony as she clutches the limp body of her dead child; another woman stretching out from a window with a lamp, hoping in vain to illuminate the encroaching darkness; mutilated bodies and the gaping mouths of those hysterical with pain, fear and sorrow merge with a wounded horse and the ever-present bull to create a profound dramatic tension.”
His relationship with the French photographer Dora Maar also influenced his work and she in fact took photographs of him at work creating his masterpiece which show how the work changed and developed over the 24 days. She appears in the painting as the face of the woman bearing a lamp. He was also visited by the British Sculptor, Henry Moore and the Spanish painter Salvador Dali during the production of the painting.
Where to See The Painting
The painting can be seen in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid but has also travelled round the world, first being exhibited at the 1937 Paris World Fair and then going on a world tour. Today, art critics still argue over the symbolism of the painting, especially the bull and the horse although Picasso himself is quoted as saying “the bull is a bull and the horse is a horse”.